By: Allison Jackson
January 10, 2014
An enterprising company in Mexico has come up with a unique solution to the country's growing problem of plastic waste.
Kuadro Ecological Solutions SA de CV is turning soda bottles, car parts, water pipes and shopping bags into one-inch thick panels which can substitute for wood, steel and concrete in the construction of houses, schools, fences and dog kennels.
"We want to give this plastic [waste] a destination," said Ramon Martin Espinosa, commercial director of the 25-year-old company. "It's great because we are using a plastic product that is a problem and converting it into a solution."
Every month, 160 metric tons of plastic waste is trucked in from recycling collection centers all over the country to Kuadro's factory on the outskirts of Guadalajara, in the western state of Jalisco, located appoximately 320 miles from Mexico City.
A team of workers sorts the mountain of plastic into piles according to the type of material, such as PET, polyethylene and polypropylene, so they can be mixed together in specific quantities to create long-lasting boards.
Inside the factory, which operates 24-hours a day, five days a week, the plastic waste is shredded, then packed into steel trays, which are then baked in gas-fired ovens.
The result is a board measuring 1.2 meters by 2.44 meters made entirely out of recycled plastic.
To keep up with growing demand for the boards, the company has increased production capacity by 200 percent in the past 12 months and it is now churning out 2,000 boards a month, Espinosa said.
The plastic products are competitively priced. A house made entirely from plastic boards, for example, is about 35 percent cheaper than one made from conventional material, Espinosa said.
Kuadro believes its products are helping to resolve a growing problem of plastic waste in Mexico, where just 15 percent of plastics are recycled, according the National Plastic Industry Association.
In that same vein, Kuadro is also keen to ensure its factory is as green as possible.
The company is overhauling its energy-intensive production process to make it more environmentally friendly. In the past year, it has converted the nine ovens to a gas fire, rather than electricity.
It is currently testing a combination of hydrogen and gas in one of the ovens, which has proven to be 22 to 27 percent more energy efficient.
"For each 10 liters of gas that we normally use, we are now using 7.5 liters," Espinosa explained.
Eventually, the company wants all the ovens running on hydrogen gas at night and solar power during the day.
Kuadro sells a range of products made from plastic, including dog kennels, flower pots, pallets and mail boxes, but its biggest selling items are plastic fences and posts, particularly in the south of Mexico where the hot, humid climate shortens the lifespan of wood, cement and steel.
Bigger plans are afoot, however. Espinosa said the company is holding talks with the Mexican government about projects to build low-cost housing, schools and highway guideposts across the country using its plastic boards.
He is confident Kuadro's proposals will soon see the light of day.
"It's a new system and it is hard to break those old ideas," he said.
"Fortunately the new government is more open to new ideas and we have more chances of this being a success in a short time."